5 easy ways to build an email list for your small business

The bigger your email list, the more potential customers you reach with each email

1. Joint Ventures Expose Your Products to a New Audience

The joint venture-in which you market a product or service through a list belonging to another party-is among the most profitable list-building methods. The commission split is usually 50/50, though you might want to give more if your primary purpose is list building, and you should know that some marketers set the commission as high as 75 percent.

The main reason to participate in a joint venture is to create a long-term relationship with a list of satisfied customers to whom you can sell multiple times. Many marketers assume it is a one-time deal. This is a major mistake. The transaction doesn't end once you've sold your product. Once that sale is complete, in fact, you now have a new customer who trusts you. Because of that, there's an excellent chance this customer will buy from you again.

Several years ago, I wrote a book called The Photoshop Companion and began to look for joint venture partners. At one point I pitched to Corel, an Adobe Systems competitor, the idea of rewriting some tutorials and branding them to the company's PHOTO-PAINT program. Corel agreed.

Tips: What Is Content Marketing, and Why Does Your Business Need It?

In this particular joint venture, I was paid two ways: a 50/50 split when the book was sold as a standalone product and a flat-fee commission when it was sold as a value-add product that shipped with the electronic download of the software. Over four years and one revision of the book, Corel sold more than 11,000 copies. As a result, I built several highly targeted email lists of roughly 800 subscribers and sold other products to those new customers after the fact.

I recommend the joint venture approach for several reasons: Little work is involved (when you use an existing product or service), it's easy to implement, profits for both you and your partner can be substantial, and you get to build an email list to which you can sell many more products over time. The site JV Wisdom provides additional resources for those interested in joint ventures, including information about creating agreements with partners.

2. Writing Articles for Free Ezines Expands Your Reach

Another great way to build an email list is to write articles and submit them to free article sites such as ezine articles, Go Articles and InfoBarrel.

Within your article, include a link to your website (or a video on your site), as well as a call to action in the author's resource box. Here's mine, for example: "Want to build a lucrative career as a freelance writer? Get this complementary report and find out what you need to know to succeed."

How-to: How to Increase Your Online Sales With A/B Testing

This call to action is important. The more people who visit your site from the ezine article, the more you will build your email list. You might want to test several variations, including different call to action text and different articles, to see which one is most effective.

3. Creating Short Videos Informs, Persuades Prospects

Another fast way to attract subscribers is to create informational videos. To get started, consider the 10x10x4 Content Creation Formula:

  • Write down the 10 most common questions people ask about your business and the 10 most important questions they should be asking.
  • Create 20 short videos-no more than three minutes-to address each one of those questions.
  • Create four more videos that focus on leading prospects into your sales funnel to purchase a product or sign up for your list.

In the description field of the video, place a link to your website, then the description and any relevant keywords. You can also use each video script as an article for the free ezine sites mentioned above and provide a link to your video within the article. Lastly, don't forget to create a content channel on a video sharing site such as YouTube or Vimeo specifically for your business videos.

4. Helping LinkedIn Members Demonstrates Expertise

I recently built an email list of 70 subscribers in a single week just by answering questions posed in various LinkedIn groups for freelance writers. My answers directed users to a squeeze page where they signed up for my list in exchange for a free report.

Another option is to go a step further and create your own LinkedIn Group, where lets you act as the group moderator and answer questions. This is a great way of building community and generating subscribers. Be aware, though, that you'll need to stay on top of the site management, as groups can easily get inundated with spammers that are often difficult to spot.

5. Hosting Free Webinars Offers New Sales Opportunities

Webinars are a great way to generate interest, secure sales and build your list. During that one week of LinkedIn activity, I decided to give a webinar; 42 people subscribed, 16 attended and, at the end, I made four sales.

Popular webinar service offerings include GoToWebinar, anymeeting and MeetingBurner. Each has its own good and bad points. For example, I used MeetingBurner for my webinar. I liked using it, but I was unable to use a "Buy Now" button at the end of the webinar. I could only insert that into the chat box, which hampered my sales efforts.

I made up for it, though, by reusing the content. After the session, I converted the webinar into an MP4 file, posted it on YouTube and posted a link to the video in all the LinkedIn groups I was helping. This allowed me to make several additional sales.

Treat Email List With Respect

A previous article looked at the use of autoresponders such as AWeber, iContact and Constant Contact. These programs let you add names to an email list manually or by way of a signup. While the automatic method of list building is obviously preferable, there will be times when you'll want to add names to your list manually. (Think of a restaurant with an email signup sheet at the hostess table.)

How-to: Find the Right Email Marketing Service Provider

Before you start sending emails to your list, consider the following:

  • Make sure you have permission to do so-that is, that customers have opted in to receiving emails from you. If not, you could have problems with spam complaints.
  • Don't purchase email lists. This is a great way to generate a ton of spam complaints from people who have never heard of you. This can cause online reputation management nightmares and get your domain name blacklisted.
  • Don't include attachments in your messages, as they are likely to be blocked by spam filters. A better option: Place a link in your copy to a page for your customer to read.
  • Use short subject lines, drop the marketing jargon and write your messages in a casual format. Your customers are more likely to respond if a message doesn't sound like it was automatically generated.
  • Include only one offer in your messages at a time, and include a clear call to action for that offer. If you use multiple offers, you'll confuse your audience.

In my next article, I'll look at using social media and other networking sites for community building, which can work hand-in-hand with list building to help ensure the success of your business over time.

Nathan Segal has been working as a freelance writer, photographer and artist for 14 years. He is based in British Columbia, Canada. Reach him via email or visit his website. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Read more about small business in CIO's Small Business Drilldown.

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Tags businessbusiness issuesindustry verticalscorelemail marketingonline marketingManagement Topicssmall business websiteManagement Topics | Small Businessemail list

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Nathan Segal

CIO (US)
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